I’ve been having a difficult time trying to find words for this blog post. I often feel very self-conscious about discussing my innermost personal feelings and troubles with others because I don’t want to be viewed as being a ‘cry baby’ or a complainer, someone who whines about their problems and is always a ‘downer’ with nothing but a sad story to tell. Usually, when I’m in a group of people, I avoid talking about myself and especially about the darker times of my life that are the foundation stones of my depression. If the conversation swings around to me and my backstory I go into ‘tactical maneuvers mode’ and instead I just try to come up with funny anecdotes of past experiences I’ve had that relate to whatever the rest of the of the conversation has been focused on. I generally keep off the topic of my mental issues and don’t talk about my depression if I can steer clear of it. That’s not to say I don’t like talking to people, of course you know by now, if you’ve read any of my blogs before this, that I do, but I just don’t like telling people about my past struggles and what I’ve gone through with my mental illness when I’m in public. A huge part of my discomfort is rooted in the fear of judgement. One of the worst anxiety issues I have is being overly concerned with how I believe other people will view me and what their opinion of me is.
Now, I know you’re shaking your head and ‘tsk-ing’ and saying to the screen, “Oh my dear, you should know better than that. Who cares what they think? Just be yourself!”, and you’re absolutely right. I shouldn’t worry about what other’s think. It’s not about them. The people who matter will care and the people who don’t care don’t matter. I’m not here to impress Joe Public. I write because I want to write. I write for my own pleasure and because it’s therapeutic – it makes me feel better to share interesting thoughts I’ve had and odd little discoveries I’ve come across that help me understand my own journey through coping with and overcoming depression. I do this because I enjoy it. It’s fun. My fingers like having something to type. My brain likes having a go at putting words together into entertaining sentences and paragraphs. My heart likes sharing allegories that can be related to encouraging the understanding of mental illness and the struggles of living with a mental illness or someone who suffers from one. My discomfort isn’t in what I write my blogs about in general. It’s in the telling of my beginnings on the dark and twisted path through mental illness and the events that shaped who I am today. These are the stories I try desperately to avoid discussing, and I usually have no problem doing so… until there is a change.
Changes come in different disguises – sometimes it’s people you meet for the first time, sometimes it’s people you’ve known for years but have never really spoken to on a ‘personal’ level. Other times it’s a new physician filling in for your regular one who’s on holiday, or a new pharmacist, a stand-in receptionist at the clinic or a part-time cashier at the store who you haven’t seen in a month. Sometimes it’s a stranger in the waiting room who is just being kind, or a technician who mistakes the scars on your arm for signs of abuse and are just being concerned for your well-being. And sometimes it’s simply someone who is genuinely curious and really does care and wants to know how to help you. All of these reasons for talking about the dark gullies along the path of my depression’s past are sincere and without malice, they happen merely by chance and happenstance, with no predetermined ill intent. Yet even knowing this, every time, no matter how often I’ve talked about it, whenever I am at a point when I must relate the details of my past in relation to my mental illness, I still find my heart racing, my cheeks burning with shame, my eyes filling with hot tears of self-recrimination, my throat choking closed and my thoughts darting frantically around searching for some means of escape. I feel like a small disgusting creature being trapped in a corner about to be smashed because I’m vile and repulsive.
( . . . . okay, yes, I know that sounded crazy. . . . stop shaking your head and close your mouth before something flies into there.)
Such are the thoughts of a sufferer of a mental illness. Neurosis, depression, psychosis, whichever it is, they cause a person to create irrational and unrealistic situations in their mind when they are put into a position of stress or discomfort. Most times those irrational and unrealistic mental situations bring on the very realistic responses of fear, self-loathing, guilt, shame, angst and extreme anxiety, as well as the automatic physical responses that go with these intense mental emotions. Medications help to minimize some of these symptoms for some of those people who suffer from mental illness, but for many people medication isn’t enough and a routine schedule of therapy is often needed in conjunction with a strict regimen of the proper combination of medicines and the practice of learned coping skills. Unfortunately, too many people who need the help to receive this treatment are not being given access to it, whether because they have no easily accessible health services in their area or because the health services are not affordable for them, or worse, because they are unable to seek help under their own strength and have no one to represent them to see that they are given the help they need.
I count myself very fortunate that I do have access to help, that I am able to afford the medicines I need and that I am able to be seen by a Psychologist, who can help me learn coping skills, and I will be seeing a Psychiatrist, hopefully on a monthly basis, who will work with me to coordinate a proper balance of medicines. However, my ease of access is rocky. I live in a remote community and in order to see the Psychologist and Psychiatrist I have to make a ninety-minute drive over mountain roads to get to the city where the Mental Health Centre is located. Not a problem in good weather, but in winter snow it’s a challenge. Even to get to the pharmacy it’s a twenty-minute drive over coastal roads that can be rough in snowy weather. And although I am able to be seen by these physicians, my visits to them will only be monthly, which I feel is not frequent enough to do much good. Unfortunately, because there is a lack of certified physicians in our province the waiting list to be seen by the few that we do have is long and there’s really no way around the waiting time. There just aren’t enough doctors here to see all the patients that need to be seen in the proper amount of time in which they ought to be seen. This is where I come to my problem of having to talk about my past more often that was comfortable.
In my last blog I mentioned that I had spoken with my Psychologist and that I was going to see a new Psychiatrist on the 14th of this month. Well, the Psychologist is the second I’ve seen, the first being a therapist assigned by my insurance company back in the spring with whom I had ten sessions, once each week for ten weeks. The therapy was very helpful, I felt that it gave me a good start on learning coping skills I didn’t have before, ways to start learning to talk myself out of panic attacks and negative self-talk, how to like myself more and hate myself less. But the insurance company wouldn’t approve any more than those ten sessions and when they were over at the end of May, even though the therapist recommended to them that I should be approved for more, none were offered to me. This meant that I needed to go through my family physician to be referred to a Psychologist at the Mental Health Centre in the city, which I did and which my physician did at the end of May. I finally got to see that Psychologist two weeks ago for the first time – four months after my physician sent his referral. Now, because I was seeing this therapist for the first time, it was not out of the ordinary to expect that they would have taken a bit of time to look at my file before I stepped into their office, except that there was a mix-up with my appointment and they weren’t expecting to see me until the next day so when I sat down in front of them they had no idea about why I was there or what I had been through, so I had to tell them everything about my family history of depression, my childhood events, my first clinical diagnosis, the breakdowns, the marital issues, the workplace issues, everything that lead up to my leaving work on stress disability leave… all of it. Everything. By the time I was finished answering all her questions I’d used up half her box of tissues and I felt like someone had burned a hole through my chest the size of a cannonball, filled my skull with lava and my eyes with sand, and dropped an anvil into my stomach.
That’s how it makes me feel physically after I talk about the events and issues from the past that shaped my depression. That’s why I try to avoid talking about them. There are times when I don’t mind telling some things to some people, like writing it in an email privately to someone I trust where I don’t have to speak the words out loud and I don’t have to listen to them echo in my head as my mouth forms them – that isn’t as difficult. It’s much harder to actually have to say it, to make the words come out, to push them up through my throat and chew them around with my teeth where they leave such a bitter taste on my tongue even after I’ve spit them out. Before my appointment with the Psychologist the other week, I was scheduled to have an MRI for another doctor who required me to have some blood tests done first. The lab technician who was taking my blood noticed the scars on my arm and asked me what happened but before I could figure out how to answer I saw the recognition break over his face – he knew what they meant, he didn’t say it exactly but he was being kind and concerned and honest when he next asked if I’d had a hard time in high school. I nearly started to cry at that. I mean, who didn’t have a hard time in high school, right? So I just nodded, I couldn’t find my voice, and he gave me a kind smile and patted my hand and then didn’t say any more about it, just went on with taking my blood sample, chatting about the weather and told me to have a good day as I left. I went out to the car and had a little cry before I drove home. A few days after that I had to go to the city hospital to have the MRI done and when I was being settled on the slab to go into the machine one of the technicians did almost the exact same thing – she glanced at my arm and leaned in and softly said to me, “Are you alright honey?”, with a look that spoke volumes, knowing I had seen where her eyes had been focused. Again, I got choked up, gave her a watery smile and said yes, that it’s alright, I’m fine and thanks… thanks for caring. She gave me a sweet smile and a reassuring pat on the shoulder before giving me the instructions about going into the resonance chamber, being extra sure to let me know that if I felt like I needed to get out, just to push the button on the buzzer she had tucked into my fingers. Do you know how hard it is to stay perfectly still while you’re trying not to sob inside one of those things? Let me tell you, it’s very hard. Very…. and the technicians at our city hospital MRI lab are darlings.
All of this brings me to where I’m now: counting down the days until my appointment to see the Psychiatrist. This will be another ‘new’ person, one I have not seen before, who will be unfamiliar with my file and probably won’t have had much time to review it before our appointment. Not that it would make much of a difference – she’ll want to hear me tell my story in my own words anyway, from the beginning, all the sordid, horrid, nasty, dark and cringe-worthy details, dredged out of the dank and mouldy corners, each of the events I despise even having to recall to my own self, wishing I could erase them from memory permanently. I’ll have to regurgitate the past again, like I have times before, force it up past my teeth and spit it out and pray that I won’t burst into flames and drop straight into the fiery pits of Hell for being so evil and disgusting and unworthy of life.
(. . . . . yeah, yeah, I know, crazy talk again. Stop tsking me. I have issues. I know. I’m working on them, alright? Sheesh.)
So why, you may ask, did I bother to write this blog about something that I don’t want to talk about? Because it’s important. It’s important that people understand why we don’t really want to talk about ‘It‘… about what happened to us that shaped us, chiseled us and whittled us down into feeling like lesser versions of the people we really are. It’s not the things that happened to us that we care to talk about, it’s the things that we are getting better at doing now that we’d rather talk about, the things that are happening to us now, now that we’ve overcome the past, the things that we’ve accomplished. When you look at the scars on my arm (and you know how they got there) don’t ask me why I put them there – isn’t it obvious enough to know that I had, at some point in my past, gone through something that was horrible enough to make me do such a thing? Instead, ask me how I’m doing now, or you can even ask me clinical things like ‘what did it feel like?’ or ‘how much did it bleed?’ (things like that can be quite interesting topics of conversation actually), or ask me if it was hard to stop doing it. Ask me about how I am getting better, not about what made me worse. I don’t want to tell you about the bad things, the dark things, the ugly things that crawl under the surface of my skin and lie in wait around the corners in my mind, hiding in the shadows, waiting to sneak out and wrap their gnarly fingers around my throat when I try to choke out the words of their story. I don’t want to speak their names and give them life again.
(. . . . . last time, I promise. No more crazy talk. Close your mouth.)
If you know someone who is struggling, who is fighting or who has fought and come a long way to make it far enough to say they won the war against mental illness, the next time you see them give them a hug and a smile and ask them how they’re doing. If you meet someone who seems to be somewhere along the journey, who wears the battle scars, who looks like they’ve come from the trenches, give them a kind smile, a gentle hand and ask them how they’re doing. Don’t ask if they’re okay, because really, none of us are ‘okay‘, but we can be ‘coping’, ‘getting there’, ‘feeling better’, ‘hanging in there’, ‘managing’, or even just ‘still alive’, which is much better than the alternative. And if you’re comfortable enough to, ask if they would like a hug and if they say ‘yes’ then please, please, please give them one! Don’t be shy. It might be most important question they’ll get asked all day, the one they most want to answer positively and the one that makes the biggest difference in their lives.
“Everything becomes a little different as soon as it is spoken out loud.” ~Hermann Hesse
PS. – Four new poems under the Poetry Pages, including “Mad Tea Party” posted below. 🙂
PSS. If any of my readers are of the Old School of Rock ‘n’ Roll, you might remember the song that my blog title comes from, written and performed by a band from British Columbia, Canada, called Chilliwack. Here’s the link to the the song if you want to have a little rock down memory lane:
https://youtu.be/ON7ZB0Im-lQ?list=PLhUdzlfKS-HDsahkr25sF7b5vxCVluHeX . 😉